Last night was cold enough to be glad that I brought two woolly hats with me. I tend to use one as a camera case in another bag and then had one on me to deal with the London weather as I travelled to the airport and probably for the way home too. I dug both out last night and passed one to Sarah. By the time I had come to bed after finishing off my beer on the balcony it was so cold, I was pulling out a rugby top for her and my massive travel towel. It was the coldest night either of us had ever experienced in Thailand. There might have been a late night G&T sipped by a nameless party 'for warmth'. We laugh early into the morning.
When the sun comes up, the room is quickly warmer and we are laughing about the amount of layers we are in. Sarah in a fit of having much too much has lost a contact lens, thankfully with a spare pair in her wash bag. We laugh about quite how far gone Thailand's current gin princess had gone and there was the damning self indictment of "I'd have left me there"... We are in stitches.
Our train back to Bangkok is reasonably early and so we are trying to pack efficiently. Sarah feels it's the pack of wet wipes in my bag that highlight my being gay. Take no notice, they're an essential for any traveller who is even slightly off the beaten track and not staying in hotels. The showers here are cold, so I pass up this chance as today we'll mostly be on the trains heading to Kanchanaburi. When we're all set, we head out for breakfast, landing just around the corner for a coffee and something to eat. We can see the station from here, so no real drama about getting there.
We flip through the menu and there it is. Pad Thai. A quarter of the cost of an actual breakfast and exactly what my stomach wants. It wasn't disappointed. We pay up and collect our things, wander over to the station, watching traffic avoiding dogs that are sleeping in the sun in the middle of the road and buy our tickets back to Bangkok. This time we were given the correct change. It'll be another 3rd class ride back but for pennies, we cannot complain.
We discuss the things that are important, travel, memories, Solzhenitsyn and Susan Sontag, things we treasure and have learnt. All the time the sun is getting warmer as we sit on the platform and watch dogs run across the tracks. As the train approaches we are waved over from one platform to another by an official with flags. Step off the platform into the track bed and step up the other side. The train to Bangkok roars into the station and jolts to a halt. We climb up through the narrow door at the carriage end and find ourselves some seats. It's a full train and we sit opposite each other. The train jerks and pulls out of the station.
I love the Thai trains. The surfaces that have been polished smooth by thousands of hands, their openness to the world around them that ensures you feel as if you are travelling through a country, rather than in a sealed, separate world. I also love the people. Travelling by train allows you enough time to observe people in close quarters. The other passengers are interesting but by far the best characters are the men and women who work to make a living from the railway. Today the ticket inspection was completely non-verbal, announced by the slightly heavy step of formal shoes and the metallic click of the punch coming from behind me.
The hawkers all have slightly strange learned gaits, a mix of carrying their wares and learning to step with the rhythm of the train. Never a missed beat or a dropped tray or basket. Today there is the man who has skin like an ancient piece of paper that has been crumpled and smoothed over and over. The Thais seemingly ignore these people, much like the British, until they want something. This man, with a smile like a wide crease on a page, is selling cold drinks and considering the cool night just gone and the fact there are lots of people in woolly hats and coats, they're ribbing him for the lack of need for an ice cold Coke? There's some pockets of laughter and then silence resumes. Even he is in a thick woollen jumper and a body warmer, three of the Buddha charms hang from a string of big red beads around his neck and rattle gently as he walks up and down.
Many of these people will ride the whole length of a route, others hop on and off across smaller stretches of track. An old lady with a basket half her size, full of sliced fruit moved up and down the carriage like a poorly handled puppet. She never misses a step but the combination of walking and balancing her basket on her thigh makes her seem articulated as the waist and the top and bottom halves controlled by different hands.
The food here is generally great and these small meals, whilst usually over-priced aren't bad and beat the wonky sandwich you might find on the main lines of Britain, a lot fresher too.
It's a lot nicer day than yesterday and I glue my face to the window and watch the world pass by. I'm left thinking about the swallows in the ruins of Ayutthaya yesterday, darting around as the dusk drew in. One of the moments that was beautiful in so many ways that I would struggle to capture without taking you there yourself. The light, the evening, the colour of the stone, and the explosive bursts of the birds, darting from temple to tree.
I look around the carriage again. The only people reading or listening to headphones are the tourists. Thai people are seemingly content to look at the world they're passing rather than distract themselves from it. The window is enough. There's more space on the train now and I look at the other passengers that I hadn't seen before. Other travellers. One man sits and chews the fingers of one hand whilst holding a book in the other. The fingers are wiped on his shorts, he turns a page and they return to his mouth via either his beard or his glasses. Every time. His ritual is broken by his companion and he's back in the world.
You realise how far Bangkok sprawls when you approach it from the outside. The larger roads start along side the tracks, the endless construction sites. It is a vast city. I'm just starting to doze as we slide back into Bangkok's Northern terminus.
We look at the map to Thon Buri station - it's about 3 miles and a beautiful day. We could walk? There's plenty of time until our train to Kanchanaburi leaves but we'd probably be cutting it close. Let's use a tuktuk. We agree what we want to pay as we approach the rank. 100BHT - seems reasonable. The first offer for the rank is 400BHT - far to much for us to ever haggle down from without being fleeced. We walk away from the rank, slowly and one of the guys peels off and negotiates a much more reasonable price. As we climb in I catch my shorts on a hook on the back of the tuktuk - the old friends that have seen many a festival and travelling adventure and are worn so thin and have been washed so many times that in places they are see through and the pockets have holes in, are probably ready to be retired.
The driver revs his engine all the way to Thon Buri, toots his horn and is determined to get there as soon as possible - all good signs to me that we have gotten a good rate. Another very daring tuktuk ride later and we are deposited at Thon Buri train station with a half hour to spare before our departure. It's another bum breaker of a 3rd class train. I don't care. As we pulled up, I spied a fruit market.
Thailand has these beautiful small fruit - Lahngsat - they look like small potatoes, peel like a thin skinned orange and have flesh somewhere between a grape and a cantaloupe. At their heart is a small dark seed. They are beautiful, sweet and once you start you'll eat a whole bag. 1Kg for the ride should be fine. I start straight away peeling the first one before we've taken two steps away, excited for the soft, tasty fruit and it is perfect.
Laden with fruit and water we get comfortable on the train. Feel the rough shunt as the locomotive is attached and today depart promptly. We are quickly in farming country and the fields of mango trees and submerged rice plants quickly spread out before us. Our entire carriage seems to be backpackers - yes we are backpackers too this time round and so blend in seamlessly.
We get chatting to a Welsh man who has retired to live in Kuala Lumpur and spends 9 months of the year there. Some seats are swapped. Sarah wants a better idea of how this is done and the costs of doing so. Thailand has a lot to answer for, many a person bitten by the travel bug. There have been discussions of our next trip already - longer, further...
We offer the fruit around. Food is always the great ice breaker in any culture. It's how I was introduced to Lahngsat in the first place. A dark buffet car on a sleeper train and a Thai woman offering me a handful to me and showing me how to peel them, eat them and throw the seed out of the window so more can grow,
The two hours to Kanchanaburi pass easily. I stretch, watch and wander up and down the adjoining carriages. One is laid out more like a tube train, passengers facing each other down it's whole length and I stop to take a photo. There are bags of beautiful flowers being unloaded. I can smell a fire and small pieces of ash are pulled into the train as it passes.
As we get closer to our destination details are swapped. It's always good to know more people when travelling. A little local knowledge and possibly a place to stay somewhere new? Great!
After a false start we wind our way to the guest house. It's got a river view - but it turns out on the small, cold hours of last night, I didn't hit the 'reserve' button. It's not an issue - they have space in the slightly more expensive rooms with the air conditioning. Oh well.
I stand on the terrace that looks out over the river. Two young boys stand in the water fishing. The sun is setting and the water and the sky are pink. A hot shower might be an over statement, but it's warm enough. As we walked from the station we spied the beginnings of a Night Market being set up. We head back in search of Sushi and possibly a new pair of shorts. We find a sushi stall at the end of the food row where, if you were so inclined, you could have roasted insects, whole squids grilled on sticks or huge slices of beautiful looking cakes. A large tray of sushi, freshly made by a small woman behind the stall comes to less than £1 and every piece is delicious.
I find some new shorts. They cost almost as much as a nights accommodation but as they seem to be one of the better pairs the stall is offering, I take them anyway. Ambling back to our guest house, we stop in one of the many bars that lines the strip that has become this slightly hippy-cool backpacker-heaven and use their free WiFi. The guest house has a connection that is impossible to connect to 'if too many guests' by which it seems they mean more than one.
It's time for more second supper. We passed one heaving place on our way out to the market, it's a lot quieter now and we pick 5 dishes off the menu and a few large Singah. The food is brilliant - fried rice with large juicy pawns, chicken and cashew nuts, some pickled salad. As we're picking through the plates, before I can stop her, Sarah puts a long, large, crimson red dried chili into her mouth and bites into it. The next five minutes are hysterical. The facial expressions are priceless and the explanation that she thought it was a bean just makes me crack up more. Eventually it dies down, relief borough by some sweet, sticky spring roll. We pay for dinner - a very reasonable £8 considering the entertainment.
Time to turn in, we walked past the open bar, cocktail joint that marks the turning into our guesthouse (somewhere to try tomorrow) and listening to a rock band playing in the bar over the road as I fall asleep.